Every year, close to 3,000 players take to the ice in Junior A leagues across Canada, but only nine have been nominated for the RBC Canadian Junior Hockey League Player of the Year. All of the nominees have proved themselves worthy both on and off the ice, but only one can join past winners such as Dany Heatley, Kyle Turris and Joe Colborne as national player of the year.
The winner will be announced during the 2009 RBC Cup, with the winner to receive his award at the awards banquet on May 9 during the National Junior A Championship in Victoria, B.C.
ALBERTA JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
Dylan Olsen (Camrose Kodiaks)
A sure-fire selection in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Olsen has had a busy two seasons with the Kodiaks. The team’s Rookie of the Year in 2007-08, the Calgary native represented the Pacific region at the 2008 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and helped Camrose to the AJHL championship and a berth at the 2008 RBC Cup. This season, he earned a spot on the AJHL South Division all-star team and wore the Maple Leaf on two occasions, with Canada West at the 2008 World Junior A Challenge, and again in April with Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, the only Junior A player on the Canadian roster.
Olsen has worked with young players in Camrose on skill development, and has been a skills instructor at his father’s power skating schools in Canada and the United States. He has also read to students at Camrose-area schools, and has spoken with them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Olsen earned his high school diploma online this spring, and has accepted a full scholarship to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, beginning in the fall.
BRITISH COLUMBIA HOCKEY LEAGUE
Justin Schultz (Westside Warriors)
It has been quite a two-year career for Schultz, the Westbank, B.C. native. Joining the Warriors as a 17-year-old, Schultz earned the team’s Rookie of the Year award and was named the Interior Conference’s Top Defenceman. He also earned spots in the BCHL All-Star Game and CJHL Prospects Game, the latter of which helped him get selected 43rd overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. As an encore in 2008-09, Schultz repeated as the conference’s Top Defenceman and earned a silver medal with Canada West at the 2008 World Junior A Challenge, while once again playing in the BCHL All-Star Game.
Off the ice, Schultz was an honour roll student at Mount Boucherie Secondary School in Westbank upon his graduation in 2008, and has accepted a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, beginning this fall, where he will take to the ice for one of the top college hockey programs in the NCAA.
CENTRAL JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
Andy Starczewski (Pembroke Lumber Kings)
The CJHL’s second-leading scorer during the regular season (51g 56a 107p) and the playoffs (9g 15a 24p), Starczewski earned the league’s Most Valuable Player award and was named Best Graduating Player while captaining the Lumber Kings to the second-best record in the CJHL and their third league championship in a row.
A graduate of Northwood Prep School with above-average grades in 2007, Starczewski has committed to the United States Military Academy at West Point for the 2009-10 season, fulfilling a lifelong goal for the Whitesboro, New York native.
LIGUE DE HOCKEY JUNIOR AAA DU QUÉBEC
Olivier Donovan (Braves de Valleyfield)
In his only season with the Braves, Donovan was the league’s scoring leader, racking up a remarkable 121 points (40g 81a) in just 49 games. His offensive explosion earned his the LHJAAAQ Player of the Year award, as well as a spot on the league’s first all-star team. It completed a three-year stretch for the Gatnieau, Quebec native that included seasons of 81 and 95 points and the award for Most Promising Player in the LHJAAAQ in 2006-07.
While putting together his career season with the Braves, Donovan has been a full-time student at Universite de Montreal, studying in Physical Education. With an eye towards becoming a P.E. teacher, transmitting the love he has for sports and a healthy lifestyle, he plans on transfering to McGill University and continuing his hockey career with the McGill Redmen.
MANITOBA JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
Eric Delong (Portage Terriers)
It was an award-winning season for the 20-year-old Delong, who claimed the MJHL’s Most Valuable Player and Sportsmanship with Ability awards to go along with a spot on the league’s first all-star team, and played in his third straight MJHL All-Star Game. The Terriers’ captain was named his team’s MVP and Outstanding Team Player and was the recipient of the Fan Appreciation Award as he led Portage to the league’s second-best record and posted the seventh-highest point total in the MJHL (46g 47a 93p). He capped his final season in Manitoba by leading the Terriers to their second consecutive league title, and pushed the defending national champions from Humboldt to a seventh and deciding game in the ANAVET Cup.
As impressive as his résumé is on the ice, Delong has been a model citizen off of it, elected class valedictorian in his senior year of high school and working as an educational assistant for the last few years, helping young students reach the levels he has reached in the classroom. A 90-per-cent student in high school, Delong will further his education and his hockey career beginning next fall, when he enrolls at Sacred Heart University, an NCAA Division I school.
NORTHERN ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
Nick Minardi (Soo Thunderbirds)
Captain of the NOJHL-champion Thunderbirds, Minardi earned the league Most Valuable Player award and a spot on the first all-star team after posting the league’s fourth-highest point total (36g 36a 72p). He was also named Soo’s MVP for a second consecutive season, and won the team’s Player’s Player Award in 2007-08. A four-year member of the Thunderbirds, he served as alternate captain in 2007-08 before wearing the ‘C’ this season.
A notorious hard worker off the ice as well as on, Minardi is a graduate of Bawating Collegiate and Vocational School and has been taking classes at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie. He plans to earn a Bachelor in Science in Nursing at Sault College of Applied Arts beginning in the fall.
ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
Jeremy Franklin (Wellington Dukes)
The only player to represent Canada East at the last two World Junior A Challenges, Franklin captained the 2008 team to a bronze medal in Camrose, Alta. The OJHL Central Division’s Most Valuable Player 2008-09, he has helped the Dukes to three consecutive division championships, and competed with the OJHL all-star team in the Battle of Ontario against the CJHL this season.
Franklin has been heavily involved with local schools, working with CML Snider Elementary School to visit, talk to and play badminton with students. He also helps out the Wellington Dukes Kids Hockey School, teaching both on-ice and off-ice skills to up-and-coming hockey players. A graduate of Ernestown Secondary School, he will enrol at Mercyhurst College in the fall, studying Criminal Justice and continuing his hockey career.
SASKATCHEWAN JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
Brady Wacker (Humboldt Broncos)
The Top Defenceman at the 2008 RBC Cup and a national champion with the Broncos, Wacker found a way to improve in 2008-09, leading the league-leading Broncos, as well as all SJHL defencemen, in scoring and winning the league’s Top Defenceman and Player of the Year awards and taking a spot on the first all-star team. His 82 points put him third in the SJHL, and were the most points in a season by an SJHL defenceman in this decade. One of the hardest-working Broncos, Wacker was an easy choice as captain for the 2008-09 season, and responded by leading Humboldt to its third consecutive league championship, and another berth in the National Junior A Championship.
A graduate of Bedford Road High School, Wacker has committed to Bemidji State University – one of the strongest hockey programs in NCAA Division I and a 2009 Frozen Four participant – for the 2009-10 season, with the goal of graduating with a four-year business degree. He plans to either take over the family business or open one of his own.
SUPERIOR INTERNTIONAL JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE
Trevor Gamache (Fort William North Stars)
Gamache ran away from the competition in the SIJHL this season – not only was he the only player to break the 100-point barrier, finishing with 103 (41g 62a), he was the only player to finish with more than 80 points, wrapping up the scoring title with a 28-point cushion over the next highest scorer. The SIJHL’s Most Valuable Player, he also played a role in the playoffs, helping the North Stars to their fourth SIJHL championship.
After graduating from high school in 2007, where he was a Governor General’s Award winner in his senior year, Gamache enrolled at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, where he is in the second year of a five-year program to obtain degrees in Kinesiology and Honours Education. He hopes to complete his double degree, either at Lakehead or an NCAA Division I school, before becoming a Physical Education teacher.